Understanding how social networks affect you

or how I learned to stop worrying and love the tweet

A novice was trying to fix a broken Lisp machine by turning the power off and on.

Knight, seeing what the student was doing, spoke sternly: “You cannot fix a machine by just power-cycling it with no understanding of what is going wrong.”

Knight turned the machine off and on.

The machine worked.

http://catb.org/jargon/html/koans.html

Social networks are at the core of the human experience today. While there are many studies, research etc out there which clearly outlines the negative impact of the frequent use of social media which clearly is about as effective as anti-smoking ads are to get you off smoking addiction.

Social networks have only seen a growing usage over a period of time despite all that is negative that is associated with it. About a half decade back, even I had realized how harmful social media had been for me and moved out of Facebook as documented here. The thing is — I am back on facebook now. The reason I am now back is that, during the time I was off facebook, I realized that I didn’t have to. I realized that my decision to power off Facebook was me trying to fix a problem with no understanding of what is going wrong. This was as dangerous as it was inefficient.

The real key lies in understanding what was going wrong and being able to figure out how to fix it. This required tricking myself into using differently, all of the social networks that I was used to interacting in a certain way. Using some of the techniques that I have illustrated below, I have since been able to use all social networks without feeling disturbed or addicted to them, using it at best once or twice a day and being able to achieve very valuable output out of their usage at the same time.

Facebook

Facebook lists are phenomenal. As a matter of fact, all list features across all social networks are phenomenal and vastly underused. Facebook has detailed descriptions of its list features in its help section. So basically, lists are a way to cluster together users so that you can see their updates together, you can hide a post from an entire list at once etc.

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Facebook Lists Help Section

Facebook lists are great because it gives you the privilege to unfollow everyone. Just because someone is your Facebook friend doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be on your NewsFeed all the time. As you can see below, Facebook gives you an option to unfollow your friends and I highly recommend you take it. This makes your newsfeed open to more useful content from the internet and if you ever want to see updates from your friends you can always check the lists.

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Facebook mobile settings to unfollow your connections

PS: List based news feed isn’t as easily approachable on the facebook UI as the default newsfeed and this eventually makes you look out for fewer updates freeing you from the Facebook dopamine rush. God bless lists.

Twitter

This is what makes Twitter a dangerous practice. While it is not wise to spend all your time tweeting and seeking others’ attention, it is far worse for your emotional composure when you spend time trying that and yet fail to get the attention you expected.

So how do we fix this? Yes, lists. Twitter has lists too. And Twitter lists are far better because twitter has Tweetdeck too. Tweetdeck is an alternate UI for Twitter which in my opinion, is far superior.

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Tweetdeck UI with focus on consumption

The key to effectively use Twitter is to focus heavily on being a consumer more than anything. With Tweetdeck, you can create a swimlane per list and follow relevant folks and maximize consumption. The tweet composition interface isn’t as exposed on TweetDeck as it is on Twitter, making it more consumption friendly. I have solely focused on retweeting and favouriting through TweetDeck over actual tweeting and that has relieved a lot of stress of using Twitter for me.

Instagram

One of the biggest complaints from Instagram is that is forces upon you ridiculously high standards and make you feel inadequate. This makes it very very important to know what kind of feed you must curate for yourself.

One of the first and most important things is to not follow celebrities. There is no way you can do anything at all to make your life even remotely similar to that of an Instagram model or a movie star. Let us not even bother.

Having said that, the ridiculously high standards can also serve as a source of inspiration if there is something you can do about the content. For eg., if you like cooking, it is phenomenal to follow as many cooking accounts on Instagram as you can because you can always attempt to and surpass the high-quality food that they cook. Instagram is phenomenal that way if you can follow accounts related to your work or your hobbies. It is guaranteed to elevate you and your quality of outcome.

It is also important to not get drowned in high-quality content though, even if it is related to your work or hobbies. Too much of high-quality content even in that vertical can make you feel inadequate or be producing with lower efficiency than others do and hence it is also important to follow very few but high-quality accounts. Do not go into following hundreds of accounts, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Once you decide and follow the right folks, another important thing is to understand the content they post. This will help you understand what kind of content you must publish. keep a close eye on the content quality, the publishing time, the hashtags that they use etc. It will not make you an Instagram superstar, but it will give you just the right amount of engagement to feel good about publishing on the platform.

Snapchat

Another great thing on Snapchat is that the primary feedback on Snapchat is via people viewing your stories. This is usually high if you have a high number of connects and doesn’t require you aggressively pushing for anything. This makes publishing a lot easier and less depressing since some form of feedback is always guaranteed once you have a few contacts.

PS: Stay away from the discover section though.

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a screenshot of cancer

Whatsapp

I always recommend having WhatsApp running on your desktop with notifications turned on. Use it as a short form replacement for your emails and you would see your own productivity rise up.

Also given the fact that WhatsApp has no form of newsfeeds, retweets, feedbacks etc which makes it less of a cognitive load. This is also another reason to use WhatsApp for desktop because it makes it slightly more difficult to access the status tab, which is again highly desirable.

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whatsapp for your desktop

Reddit

The biggest issue with Reddit is the amount of time you can end up wasting on the platform. The richness and diversity of the content consumed also ensures that there isn’t much room for regret after spending so much time on the platform.

One of the first things to ensure is that you always stay logged out. Commenting and getting karma(Reddit upvotes) is the best way to get hooked to the platform forever. I personally prefer the Reddit is fun app for this. It stores your credentials and lets you very quickly switch between the logged in and logged out state. This lets me have logged out as the default state for usage with logging in quickly to save useful links and logging it out again.

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I am not paid to endorse these apps.

Once you get used to browsing(lurking) Reddit logged out, you have already cut yourself off most of the feedback loops the site will subject you to.

Another good thing about Reddit is fun is that it focuses more on content rather than the feedback dependent features allowing you to, over a period of time, phase it out of your attention. At this point, I rarely even notice the upvote button anymore.

I also stick to using Reddit primarily on the phone, which forces you to consume only one article at a time. On the browser, open link in a new tab, is just another way of activating the Reddit rabbit hole and its best to stay away from that too.

Conclusion

Over time I have been able to use these tricks and some more to get to a point where I usually spend 15–20 minutes a day, usually towards the beginning of the day, to go over all these social networks and then I do not feel the need to check the platforms again until the end of the day or usually next day.

It is also important to understand that a lot of our habits and additions are dictated by the feedback loops we set for ourselves with the usage of these products and learning how to tune these feedback loops I would highly recommend books like The Power Of Habit. It’s easy to configure these feedback loops and get yourself out of most addictions and make yourself more efficient.

If you liked this article or are just wondering if your click feature still works, you can repeatedly tap on the clap button to find out or also reach out to me on twitter. Would love to hear what else can be done to make the above approaches more efficient.

Written by

I enjoy learning about human behavior and how we interact with our surroundings and ourselves, and especially with technology.

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